Demons and the Power of God

Demons and the Power of God

Mark 9:14-29

Dr. Jim Denison

When I graduated from high school I made plans to attend Baylor University, as all good Baptist boys do. But then my girlfriend and I broke up; she was going to Baylor, so I couldn’t go there after that. Houston Baptist University offered me an academic scholarship, so I went to HBU. My junior year I met Janet, and the rest is history.

At HBU each student was issued an identification number he or she would use through the year. It was given at chapel to register attendance, and put on forms and papers. Registering for my junior year at HBU, as I was standing in line for my ID number, the thought occurred to me that someone at Houston Baptist University would get the number 666—the “mark of the Beast.” The movie Omen had just come out that summer, and everyone was talking about 666. I had taught the Book of Revelation at the church where I was a student minister, and was thinking about all of this.

I was so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t notice when the student in front of me in line was given the ID number 665. But I’ll never forget the shock when the lady at the desk smiled and said, “Denison—666.” I wanted to run out to see if I’d grown horns and a tail. Going to chapel I’d say, “Mark of the Beast,” and the lady would write down “666” while everyone stared.

Last week we began exploring one of Jesus’ most amazing miracles, an episode where he responded to the faith of a father by healing his demon-possessed son. Last Sunday we discussed faith and the power of God; today we’ll look at demons and the power of God. Next week Janet will speak while I’m out of town; the week after we’ll finish this story by exploring prayer and the power of God.

What is spiritual warfare?

First, let me introduce you to the subject of spiritual warfare. An African proverb says, “When elephants fight, the grass always loses.” Who are the “elephants” in the spiritual battle we’re waging? And who is the “grass”?

On one side is our Heavenly Father, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the Lord of all that is. Our God, who so loved us that he sent his Son to give us eternal life with him in heaven.

On the other side is Satan. His name means “adversary” or accuser. All across the Scriptures he acts in defiance of God’s word and will. He tempted Jesus, and tempts us as well. We are the “grass” in his battle against the Lord. And so the Bible warns us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8).

According to the Bible, a “demon” is a created spirit being, a kind of angel. These beings sinned with Satan in heaven, and so are commonly called “fallen angels” or “unclean spirits.” Satan is now their ruler (Matthew 12:24), and he has organized them into his army of evil (Ephesians 6:11-12). God created hell for them, and they will be there with Satan forever: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).

Their doom is sure. Revelation sees the day when “the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

But in the meanwhile Satan is fighting for every soul he can bring to hell and damnation with him. And his foot soldiers are his demons. We need to know about them, because they’re after us.

What are demons?

As we saw last week, our story comes just after Jesus’ transfiguration before Peter, James and John. He came from the Mount of Transfiguration to the valley of suffering below, where he was met by a distraught father whose son was possessed by a demon. What does our text tell us about demons?

First, they are very real. Most Americans don’t believe they exist. Most Americans are deceived.

Demons were real to Jesus. Six times in the gospels we find him casting them out of suffering, demon-possessed people. Mark 1:34 says that Jesus “drove out many demons.”

They were real to the early Christians. Acts 5:16 records this scene from their ministry: “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Peter and Paul both exorcised demons personally.

And they were certainly real to the boy in our story today, weren’t they?

Second, demons seek to destroy. The demon in our text robbed the boy of speech; it threw him to the ground where he foamed at the mouth, gnashed his teeth and became rigid. The boy’s father told Jesus that “it has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him”

Third, demons are stronger than we are. The man told Jesus, “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not” (v. 18). In the story of the demon-possessed man of Gadara, no one could bind him with a chain.

Last, demons want to hurt us. They hate all people, so that they came to possess and tried to kill this innocent boy. They especially hate the people of God. They cannot harm our Father, so they try to harm his children.

Know that if you are a Christian, you cannot be “possessed” by a demon. You are owned by Jesus, and cannot be owned by the devil. But you can be “oppressed” or tempted by them.

How do we defeat demons?

First, receive Jesus. Make him your Savior and Lord. As he defeated this demon, so he has power over Satan and his temptations always. Make him your Lord, and he will help you win the battle over temptation and sin every day.

Next, recognize temptation. When sin knocks at your door, demons are hiding behind it. And that sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay. Know that every sin is part of a demonic strategy to ruin your witness and life.

Third, run to the Spirit. Every time you are tempted, go immediately to the Spirit for his help. Don’t try to win this battle on your own, because you cannot.

There is no sin you have to commit. 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that God will not allow a temptation in your life which you cannot overcome in his strength. There is no sin which you must commit.

But there is no sin you can defeat without his help. James 4:7-8 is God’s antidote to temptation: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Submit to God’s Spirit—be filled and empowered every day by him—then resist the devil with his strength and help.

When you’re being attacked by temptation, take it immediately to the Spirit. Ask for his help, wisdom, and strength. And it will be yours.

More than 20 years ago, I taught an apologetics course at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas to a group of college students home for the summer. One of them was especially unusual. She wore occult clothes and jewelry, and looked angrily at me each week as I spoke. After our next-to-last session, she asked if she could talk with me the next week before the last session began. I was happy to meet with her, and asked the college minister to join us.

That week, my car broke down on the way to the church. It was the only time all the time I owned it that it had mechanical failure. I barely got to the church.

She wasn’t there. But just as the last session ended, she came into the back of the room. She came up afterwards to apologize—family friends arrived at their house uninvited and unexpected, and she had to stay. Finally she made excuses and slipped out to come to the church.

So she, the college minister and I met in his office together. She told me her story: she had grown up around church but had never become a Christian. When she went off to college, she became involved with a group of people who “channeled spirits.” They taught her to pray to the various “spirits,” asking them to take control of her life. Her personal spirit was “Isis,” one of the Egyptian pagan deities.

Now she wanted Isis to leave her, and wanted to give her life to Jesus. So we took hands together and prayed. As I prayed for her, her hands trembled and she cried out, “He’s tearing at me—he’s hurting me.” The college minister and I continued to pray, and in a moment her hands calmed.

She asked Jesus to forgive her sins and become her Savior, to replace Isis in her soul and become her Lord. And he did. When we opened our eyes, we found a new person with us. Her face was completely different. She took off her occult jewelry and handed it to me to throw away. She had the joy of Jesus.

I didn’t hear from her again, but one of the staff members of the church did. A few years ago he told me that she had married a minister and was now a pastor’s wife. Scripture is right: “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).


Let me close by warning us again: sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay. Always. So take temptation immediately to the only One who can defeat it. And his victory will be yours.

A few years ago, National Geographic told the story of a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park. After the fire was out, forest rangers began to assess the damage. One found a bird literally petrified by ashes, perched on the ground at the base of a tree. The ranger pushed over the bird gently with a stick. When he did, three tiny chicks ran out from under their dead mother’s wings.

This mother, aware of impending disaster, sheltered them under her body and wings, knowing somehow that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety, but she refused to abandon her babies. When the fire arrived and its heat scorched her small body, she remained unmoved. Because she was willing to die, those under her wings would live.

Get under Jesus’ wings. Every time the temptations and sin of Satan’s demons attack. And the victory is yours. This is the promise of God.

Does God Want To Help You?

Does God Want To Help You?

Matthew 8:5-13

Dr. Jim Denison

Meeting Billy Graham was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It was my privilege to lead the delegation which invited Dr. Graham to Texas Stadium for the Metroplex Mission in 2002.

He was preaching a Mission in Fresno, California when we were ushered in to meet with him. He had broken a bone in his foot the night before, and had a walking cast on it. He was sipping water and looking over his sermon notes when our group was brought to sit with him.

I’ve never seen eyes like his—piercing, gracious, holy. We presented him with 700 letters of invitation from across the Metroplex, and I explained our reasons for wanting him to come. He listened to each of us, then turned to me and asked, “Why do you think I can help you?” I misunderstood his question, thinking he was asking about the need for such an evangelistic meeting in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and proceeded to describe the number of lost people in our community and our other spiritual needs.

He listened politely, then asked, “But why do you think I can help?” He was not sure that, at 83 years of age, he could be relevant to our needs. He received our letters and promised to pray. And he did—for more than six weeks, longer than he took to accept any invitation in the history of his ministry, we were told.

His humility was the single most impressive part of the entire experience.

It was an awe-some experience in every way. I felt unworthy to be in the presence of the man who has preached to more people than any person in human history. Most of us know the feeling of being unworthy to be with someone greater than ourselves. I’ve been privileged to meet presidents and governors and felt that way. I’ve been with great ministers and missionaries and scholars and felt that way. There are times when I feel that way especially with God. He knows my mistakes and failures and guilt better than I know them. There are times when I don’t feel worthy to pray to him, to ask for his help, to seek his grace. We’ve all been there and we’ll all be there. Today’s story is for us.


To understand the true significance of this week’s story, we need to know something of the cultural history behind the text.

We have a “centurion” in Capernaum. Who and what was he? The Roman army was divided into legions of 6,000 soldiers, which were further divided into “centuries” of 100, each commanded by a “centurion.” These were the sergeants, the men on the ground; historians call them the “backbone of the Roman military.”

In a city the size of Capernaum, he would be the presiding officer, the military leader of the occupied city. Thus the most hated man in Capernaum. Why? Because the Jews hated the Romans, and even more, the Gentile world they represented.

The story goes back 800 years, to the time when the Assyrians (roughly Syria today) destroyed and annihilated the ten northern tribes of Israel. They burned their cities, enslaved their women and children, and killed most of the men. Some stripped their skin to use for wallpaper. They are called the “lost tribes of Israel” to this day.

Then, in the sixth century before Christ, the Babylonians did the same thing to the southern kingdom of Judah. They destroyed their temple, enslaved their people, destroyed their nation.

The Persians eventually overthrew the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return to their ruined homeland, but under Persian dominance.

That’s how the Old Testament closes. Then the Greek empire under Alexander overthrew the Persians and enslaved the Jews. One of their generals, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, tried to force the Jews to worship Greek gods. He slaughtered a pig on the altar of the Holy of Holies and erected a statue of Zeus in the temple. The Jews revolted in 166 B.C. under the Maccabees and gained their independence for 103 years.

Then, as their leaders were fighting each other, in 63 B.C. the Romans under Pompey captured Israel and made it theirs. And that’s how the New Testament opens.

You can see why the Jews hated the Gentiles. They said that God made Gentiles so there would be firewood in hell. They forbade their women from helping a Gentile woman in childbirth, for that would only bring another Gentile into the world. They wouldn’t eat Gentile food, go into Gentile homes, or speak to Gentiles in public. One famous prayer repeated by men across Israel each morning was, “Lord, I thank you that you did not make me a woman, a slave, or a Gentile.”

And this man was not only a Gentile, he was a Roman; and not only a Roman, but the man presiding over the Roman occupation of their city. Archaeologists have discovered the military barracks where he lived, just east of Capernaum. This is the background Matthew assumes we know when he tells us that “a centurion” in Capernaum came to Jesus.

But against all odds, he “came to him, asking for help.” Capernaum was Jesus’ ministry center in Galilee; this man had heard our Lord teach and preach and heal. Now he came to him for help.

He called him “Lord,” a remarkable statement. “Lord” translates Kurios, a title reserved for Caesar. Each year every Roman citizen was required to burn a pinch of incense before a bust of Caesar and say Caesar Kuriou, Caesar is Lord. In decads to come Christians would refuse, saying instead Iesou Kuriou, Jesus is Lord. For this more than a million were slaughtered by the Empire.

Now this man came to Jesus, calling the itinerant Jewish carpenter his Lord, his Caesar. And bringing him a very special request: “My servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Again we see his remarkable character, in caring so deeply for a “servant,” a slave, an attendant.

Jesus offered to go and heal him, but the man understood Jewish sentiments about going into Gentile homes. He replied, “Lord [again], I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” But he knew that just a word from Jesus would heal his servant, no matter where Jesus was. Jesus told his disciples that this hated Gentile Roman military commander had more faith than any he had met among the people of Israel. And his servant was healed at that very hour.


What does our story stay to those of us who feel unworthy to ask Jesus for the help we need? The centurion would teach us three life lessons.

First, we can accept the grace of God, no matter our past or problems or need.

God’s word gives us this remarkable assurance: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

The last class I taught at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth included a student who had been a drug dealer in New York City, living in its subways. A woman handed him a gospel tract. He read its message and gave his heart to Christ. That semester he graduated from seminary to go back to New York City as a minister. Another student had been a convict in a maximum security prison when a chaplain reached him for Christ. That semester he graduated to go back to prison, not as a prisoner but as a preacher.

I know a man who killed his wife in a drug-induced rage but is now preaching the gospel. I know of former Satanic high priests who are ministers for Jesus. God hits straight licks with crooked sticks. You can accept his grace today, no matter your past or problems.

Accept his grace and give him your need. Jesus healed the man’s servant because the centurion asked him to. I can find only one miracle in the Gospels which Jesus seems to have initiated—the lame man by the pool of Bethesda. Every other miracle in his ministry was in response to a request, a prayer, an intercession. James says that we have not because we ask not (James 4:2). Wesley was convinced that God does nothing except in answer to prayer.

So accept his grace, give him your need, and trust him to respond. The centurion knew that Jesus would do whatever was best. He always does. He always answers your prayers. He always gives you what you ask for, or whatever is best. He always redeems what he allows. That’s just the way Jesus is.


1. Why are you a centurion today? What about your past are you glad we don’t know today? Who is your “servant”?

Billy Graham’s response to our invitation was a typical expression of his genuine humility. In his autobiography, Just As I Am, he makes this statement:

I have often said that the first thing I am going to do when I get to Heaven is to ask, “Why me, Lord? Why did You choose a farmboy from North Carolina to preach to so many people, to have such a wonderful team of associates, and to have a part in what you were doing in the latter half of the twentieth century?” I have thought about that question a great deal, but I know also that only God knows the answer (p. 723).

When he came with such reservations to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, Dr. Graham preached to the largest crowds in the history of his ministry in North America, received the largest offering ever given, and saw the largest response he has ever seen in our country. All because he trusted God’s grace with humility.

What will the Father do with your next prayer?

Making Christ the King of Your Prayer

Making Christ the King of Your Prayers

Mark 9:14-29

Dr. Jim Denison

A group of visiting ministers from America came to tour Charles Spurgeon’s church buildings. Spurgeon graciously showed them around the facilities—the massive sanctuary, the children’s homes, the Bible college rooms, and all the rest. Toward the end of the tour, he asked his guests if they would like to see the boiler room. They respectfully declined, with the wry comment that boiler rooms must be the same everywhere and there could be little different about those at the Tabernacle.

Spurgeon begged to differ, and insisted that they see his boiler room. Finally they agreed. Spurgeon took the group down a long flight of stairs to the basement beneath the sanctuary. There they found over one hundred men and women on their faces before God in prayer. Pointing to these fervent intercessors, Spurgeon said, “This is my boiler room.”

We all need such a “boiler room” in our lives—a source of spiritual power which sustains and strengthens all we do. But such a power is tied directly to our faith. As Spurgeon demonstrated, if we would pray in power, we must pray in faith.

Andrew Murray said, “Most churches don’t know that God rules the world by the prayers of his saints.” John Wesley was even more specific: “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” And E. M. Bounds claimed, “The church upon its knees would bring heaven upon the earth.”

The best way to know Christ is in prayer. We know any person best by spending time with him or her, talking together, listening to each other, being with each other. So it is with Jesus. The more time we spend together in prayer, the more we grow to know him and be like him.

And this focus is especially urgent in our day, because the greatest way we can serve the cause of Spiritual Awakening is to pray. To pray for our nation, for her leaders, her people, her spiritual life and God’s divine blessing.

So this morning we’ll look at the life of prayer, and focus that life on our nation and her needs this day.

Pay the price to pray with power

We’ve explored Jesus’ miraculous healing of this demon-possessed boy. His disciples could not help, but Jesus did. Remember the story: “When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit,’ he said, ‘I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He’s dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up” (vs. 25-27).

Now we come to the part of the story for us today: “After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer'” (vs. 28-29).

Jesus had been with the Father in prayer on the Mount of Transfiguration. Meanwhile, the three disciples with him were asleep and the nine below were arguing with the crowds. Only he had been in prayer.

Such a commitment was the pattern of his life. He began his public ministry by spending 40 days in solitude for fasting and prayer. After his first Sabbath in ministry, he got up a great while before day, went to a solitary place, and prayed (Mark 1:35). He prayed all night before selecting his disciples. He prayed before feeding the 5,000. He prayed before raising Lazarus from the dead. He prayed before dying on our cross. He prayed from the cross. He is praying for us right now at the right of the Father in glory (Romans 8:34).

Biblical examples:

Abraham built altars for prayer wherever he went.

Moses’ ministry began in an encounter with God in prayer. He spent days and weeks alone with God in prayer.

David was such a man of prayer that we have the Psalms as a result.

The church was birthed in the Upper Room, where they went to pray before Pentecost fell.

Gentiles came into the church when Cornelius and Peter prayed.

The gospel came to the Western world when Paul prayed and received the Macedonian vision.

Lydia became the first European convert when she went to a place of prayer.

The Revelation was given to John when he prayed.

Do you see a pattern?

Spiritual awakening examples.

The first great awakening began in the heart of Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Dutch Reformed pastor who prayed seven years before all his deacons became Christians, then prayed until others joined him and the Awakening fell.

The second great awakening began with Isaac Baccus, a Baptist minister who called for a massive prayer movement.

The third began when a group of laymen began meeting for prayer on Wednesday, September 23, 1857 at the Old North Dutch Church in New York City. They were led by a Presbyterian businessman named Jeremiah Lamphier. The first day, six people came to his prayer meeting. The next week there were 14; then 23; then the group began to meet daily. They outgrew the church and began filling other churches and meeting halls throughout the city. Such meetings spread across the country. In a nation of 30 million, a million came to Christ in a single year.

The Fourth Great Awakening began in Wales in 1904 in the heart of a coal miner named Evan Roberts. He was convicted of his sins by the Spirit, and turned to God in prayer and repentance. He then began preaching to the young people in his church, calling them to prayer and repentance. Prayer meetings broke out all over Wales. Social conditions were affected dramatically. Tavern owners went bankrupt; police formed gospel quartets because they had no one to arrest. Coal mines shut down for a time because the miners stopped using profanity and the mules no longer understood them.

The revival spread to America, where ministers in Atlantic City, NJ reported that out of 50,000 people, only 50 adults were left unconverted. In Portland, Oregon, more than 200 stores closed daily from 11 to 2 so people could attend prayer meetings. In 1896, only 2,000 students were engaged in missionary studies; by 1906, 11,000 were enrolled. All because a group prayed for the power of God to extend the Kingdom of God in their Jerusalem and around the world.

Pray to receive the power of God

But why? Why pray to an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God? He already knows our problems (Matthew 6:8). He wants to help; we cannot manipulate him with our words. So, why is prayer the key to the power of God?

My problem looks like this: does my prayer convince God to do something he would not otherwise do? If so, then am I talking God into doing the right thing? Am I better than he, and must convince him to do what is right? On the other hand, if my prayer does not change God and his work, then why pray?

I know that some say, “Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes me.” It’s true that prayer changes me, but what do we do when what needs changing is not us? A child to be healed? A lost person to be saved? A nation in need?

If I pray, do I convince God to do something good? If I don’t, why should I pray? Do you see the problem?

James said that we have not because we ask not (James 4:2). I think one of the chief reasons we don’t ask more urgently, pray more passionately, is that we’re not sure why we should. Why it matters. Why it changes things. And when we do pray, were’ not sure our praying really makes a significant difference.

We pray for rain, but do we bring our umbrellas? We pray for healing, but do we really believe it will happen?

A young man once asked Spurgeon why he was seeing so few respond to his preaching. Spurgeon asked, “Well, you don’t expect someone to come every time you preach, do you?” “No, of course not.” “That’s why they don’t,” Spurgeon concluded.

This is even more true of praying. The obvious problem of prayer is that the modern church does so little of it. The underlying problem is that we’re not sure why we should.

Here’s the answer which has helped me enormously: prayer doesn’t change God, it positions me to receive what he already wanted me to have. When we ask God to move, we give him permission to move. When we ask him to heal us, we admit that we need him to heal us and we want him to. Then he can.

Every parent here knows what it’s like to want to help your children more than they will let you. You can solve their math problem, or fix their toy, or help them decide where to go to school, but they must let you. Their request for help doesn’t change your heart, but theirs. Then you can give what you already wanted them to have.

This is why we pray: to know God. To know his heart, his mind, his Spirit. And to receive from him what he already wanted us to have. Not because our prayer earns God’s favor—it simply receives it. It receives what Almighty God, our heavenly Father, wants us to have.

If you agree that America needs God’s favor, God’s power, God’s help, then you must ask. Not to change God, but us.


I once heard Chuck Swindoll say at a Texas Baptist Evangelism Conference, “You can do great things for God after you pray. But you cannot do anything for God until you pray.” He’s right. When we pray we will receive God’s power. Power to work, to witness, to minister, to evangelize. Power to touch America. Power to touch the world.

Jonathan Edwards, the leader of one of America’s Great Awakenings, was asked the secret. He said, “Promote explicit agreement and visible union of God’s people in extraordinary prayer.” Andrew Murray explains why: “The man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to the world’s evangelization in history.”

Do you agree?

What’s your prayer life like today? How close are you to Jesus right now? How committed to the life of prayer, of communion with him? Is prayer an activity or a relationship for you?

Do you pray regularly for your country? For your president and other leaders, as Scripture commands us? For the salvation of our people?

And are you willing to be part of the answer to that prayer? By beginning where you are, with the people you know and the needs you can touch today? By helping hurting friends, and showing them Jesus’ love in yours? By telling them that God loves them?